Recology prices could be endangered by China’s halting import of recyclables

By Jack Mayne

The trash and recycling service is being impacted by the decision by China to halt importing many recyclables, and that could have a future impact on its service prices to Des Moines residents.

Service is not affected – nor are prices yet – but a continued halt or additions to the purchase of recyclable products would eventually have impact on the services of Recology CleanScapes, said general manager Kevin Kelly, at the Thursday (May 10) Des Moines City Council session.

Service to Des Moines
Kelly said his employee wholly owned company began weekly garbage and organics collection service that invests its capital most into reclaiming trash and muchness into the landfill disposal.

In Des Moines, Kelly said his organization provided service to about 6,400 homes and about 500 commercial and multi-family customers.

He said Recology has a recycling store in the Five Corners shopping center in Burien that residents of Des Moines “can take advantage of” and is where people can drop off “hard to recycle materials” such as textiles, light bulbs and tubes, batteries and electronic waste amongst other items at no additional charge.

The store also acts as a customer service center, said Quinn Apuzzo, Recology’s “waste zero manager” said last year the company achieved a successful collection rate of 99.8 percent, “well below the contract required threshold of one house per thousand customers — we are closer to .0.2 missed collections per thousand customers.”

She said most of the 11,000 Des Moines residents who did call last year were related to setting up new services, vacation holds and not about missed service.

Diverted 11,000 tons
Apuzzo said Des Moines business and residential customers diverted over 11,000 tons of material from landfills, “or about a third of all the waste that was generated was kept out of the landfill.” She said the residential rate of recycling is, as usual, better than the commercial or multi-family customers.

But that does not include “the entire picture,” said noting the Recology store in Five Corners shopping center.” (Page 30) The Recology store is where people can drop off “hard to recycle materials” such as styrofoam, textiles, light bulbs and tubes, batteries and electronic waste amongst other items at no additional charge. The store also acts as a customer service center, said Apuzzo, along with a place to pay bills for find out about services.

“We sell things at the store that are either made from recycled items or things that a meant to help display land fill waste,” said Apuzzo, adding the store often is a gathering spaces for workshops and community groups and a “green cleaning event” in celebration of Earth Day. The events are free and open to the public.

She said Recology is working with the Des Moines Park Department to administer its $5,000 annual “neighborhood week reductions rewards grant to identify projects and programs around sustainability.”

The China effect
Kelly told the Council that China “closes the door” to importing a wide range of materials they had been importing and paying the providers, crashing the price for recyclables, upwards of over 98 percent for mixed paper.

Now, China has “closed the door” on accepting any material, contaminated or clean, he said, and secondary markets are likely to be filled and so in the future potential local prices ranges may have to react and Kelly said Recology would be discussing the problems ongoing with city staff.

“This is significant because mixed paper makes up approximately 40 percent of everything that goes into a customer’s blue bin and subsequently ends up at our facility. So it has a strong impact on overall recycling markets,” upwards of 80 percent down, said Kelly. China is adding to their ban on importing recycles, and setting strict standards on the potential “contamination” of a recyclable, so the tape on a cardboard box would make it rejectable. Recology is increasing its inspection and have found secondary markets to send materials but increasing space on cargo ships has become another problem.

“For now, we are dealing with the impact,” Kelly said.

Chief Operations Manager Dan Brewer and Sound Transit gave the Council an update on the Sound Transit Federal Way link extension and a concern about potential noise mitigation to city residents near the new rail route.

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